Algeria: The Quiet Revolution Gets Louder


September 5, 2015: A power struggle in the government has finally gone public with the August 27 arrest of Abdelkader Ait Ouarab. This is a big deal because this is the guy who led the counter-terror campaign in the 1990s that defeated the Islamic terrorists. Ouarab continued serving until he retired (apparently under pressure) in late 2013. All this internal strife has been going on, quietly, for over a decade. Things heated up in early 2013 when president Abdelaziz Bouteflika had a stroke and was disabled. Pro-reform members of the senior leadership pushed for Bouteflika to resign followed by free elections The Bouteflika family and corrupt officials who had benefitted from Bouteflika rule got organized and resisted. No one wanted a civil war, but the two sides were sharply divided and compromise was not possible. By late 2013 it was clear that most Algerians wanted the government to clean up the rampant corruption and that there was support for that on the inside led by several senior Intelligence officers. Most of the corrupt officials and their civilian allies belong to the extended family of the elderly (nearly 80) president Bouteflika. Then there were the clans of several other families that led the country after freedom was achieved in the 1960s and have dominated government and the economy ever since. The Bouteflikas were apparently slow to realize that their most dangerous political enemies were the senior people in the intelligence and security agencies who were keen on cleaning up the corruption. There were also a lot of military officers who favored anti-corruption reforms. Fortunately for Bouteflika many senior military commanders were corrupt, some because they felt refusing the economic perks offered when they achieved high rank would be seen as disloyal. Bouteflika always believed the loyalty of the military was essential to keeping his corrupt crew in power. Yet by late 2013 many Bouteflika loyalists noted the split within the military and began moving more of their assets out of the country, just in case. That’s because if there’s another large-scale uprising and the military refuses to suppress it (or, worse, splits or falls apart because of disagreements among officers) the current government is done. Bouteflika also realizes that most of the troops are keen on anti-corruption efforts. In short, it’s a dangerous time in Algeria and now it’s out in the open.

There have been hints of trouble recently. In late July local media revealed that the government had unexpectedly replaced three of the most powerful generals in the military (the heads of counter-intelligence, the Republican Guard and presidential security). This was immediately linked with two other odd events. First there was the large number of troops showing up at the presidential residence on July 16th. Whatever was going on there was never made public. Finally there is the fact that president Bouteflika has not spoken or appeared in public for months and many Algerians believe he is dying or at the very least not getting any better. 

Since early 2014 the government has denied that there was a feud raging between the intelligence services and the corrupt senior politicians. For over a year there have been rumors of senior people in the intelligence and security agencies who are keen on cleaning up the corruption and pressuring the government to support this effort. There were also a lot of military officers who favor the anti-corruption drive and the government responded by accusing the reformers of being disloyal and plotting a coup. That’s a possibility now, despite efforts to persuade the Bouteflika clan to do the right thing and let the people decide. Right now Algerians are finding out that the key men in the counter-terror forces are being forced out. Not just the older ones who are eligible for retirement but younger ones who are not. This provides leaders for any future rebellion against the corrupt government and the Bouteflikas are running out of options. 

Meanwhile the fight against Islamic terrorists continues with over 60 of them killed so far this year compared to about a hundred in all of 2014. Many Algerians fear that dismissing many key counter-terrorism leaders will eventually reduce the effectiveness of operations against Islamic terrorists. The national leadership seems more concerned about maintaining their power and ability to plunder the national wealth for personal benefit. The government also appears incapable of dealing with the financial crises. Oil and gas income has fallen by nearly half since 2011. That’s about $30 billion less each year. Oil and gas are nearly all (97 percent) of the country's export revenues, and 40 percent of GDP. The 2015 budget keeps spending levels largely the same and to do that over $30 billion has to come out of the reserves. This cannot continue for long as Algeria only has $158 billion in reserves and not much in the way of credit for big loans to cover budget deficits. These shortages make the corruption more of an issue. For example, corrupt officials enable over $40 billion in untaxed goods to be smuggled in each year. While the army and police concentrate on the small operators bringing goods in overland in the south or from Morocco, the big money is in bribed officials allowing shiploads to come in untaxed. The government is going through the motions of cracking down but most Algerians believe this is all for show.  

August 31, 2015: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers have lately been capturing more smugglers with weapons, lots of ammo and even rifle cartridge reloading equipment. Many of these smugglers are bringing in people in addition to the usual cheap fuel and food. In the west, on the Moroccan border, soldiers shot a smuggler crossing the border illegally. 

August 28, 2015: West of the capital soldiers ambushed Islamic terrorists and killed one. Weapons and documents were seized. 

August 27, 2015: The government arrested former (until late 2013) counter-terrorism chief Abdelkader Ait Ouarab. Also known as “General Hassan” he ran the DRS (main intelligence agency). Ouarab was charged with possessing illegal firearms, withholding information and insubordination.

East of the capital troops found an Islamic terrorist hideout that was used to store and build bombs. Several bombs were seized along with weapons and ammo. This was part of a week-long operation that has so far left five Islamic terrorists dead and large quantities of weapons, ammo and equipment seized. 

August 25, 2015: In the last three days troops on the Mali and Niger borders have killed or arrested over 120 smugglers and seized large quantities of weapons, ammunition and other goods. 

August 23, 2015: Tunisian border guards were ambushed by Islamic terrorists near the Algerian border. One border guard was killed and three wounded. This appears to be part of an effort by one of the major Islamic terror groups in Tunisia to get the security forces to back off. That has not been working so far and the Islamic terrorists have suffered heavy losses recently. 

August 22, 2015: In the northeast (Skikda province, 500 kilometers east of the capital) troops clashed with a group of Islamic terrorists and killed two of them. The army has a major search operation going on in the province because of reports that a group of armed Islamic terrorists (as many as 30) were in the area.

August 18, 2015:  In the east, across the border in Tunisia, Islamic terrorist landmines killed two Tunisian soldiers. 

August 14, 2015: In the northeast (Skikda province) Islamic terrorists ambushed an army patrol and killed two soldiers. 




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